Julia Fordham has long been interested in sustainable energy. A Los Alamos, N.M., resident, this member of the Class of 2016 has watched with interest her dad’s work for the Los Alamos National Laboratory and interned there herself this past summer working on solar cells.
“I’m really interested in doing something that can make a big impact in the world,” she said of her interest.
So when a recruiter came to her high school and mentioned — albeit hazily — Penn’s new Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research, Fordham jumped at the opportunity.
“It was an ah-ha moment,” she said.
Although the recruiter did not know much about the nascent program, Fordham did her own research to learn more about the dual-degree between the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the College of Arts and Sciences.
“Penn was always at the top of my list,” said Fordham, who had intended to apply as a chemical engineering major. But for her, VIPER sealed the deal.
Fordham’s story underscores the passions that a unique initiative like VIPER can ignite in prospective students.
According to Dean of Admissions Eric Furda, that is reflected in the applicant pool. Penn received 131 applications for VIPER, of which it admitted 22.
“I would expect all of these students to have other options,” Furda said. “However, none of those options are as unique as VIPER.”
The new program, which was announced this past fall, is heavily research-oriented, and looked for advance standing in the sciences among its applicants. According to Furda, the selection committee consisted of both admissions officers and faculty involved in VIPER — a necessity for such specialized programs.
For Fordham, the research component was especially appealing.
“It’s just mind-boggling, all the opportunities they offer,” she said.
Students enrolled in VIPER will learn from their freshman year how to get involved in undergraduate research, and the program includes stipends for research over the summer.
Furda said he does not have particular expectations for what VIPER’s matriculation rate will be, given the uncertainty of a new program and the perceived difficulty of a dual degree. However, Fordham said she remains unfazed by the rigor that comes with pursuing both a BA and a BSE — and is even considering adding a math major to the mix.
“I’m a little bit nervous, but if it’s something I’m really interested in and excited about, it doesn’t seem so intimidating,” she said.
For Fordham, VIPER affords the opportunity to work on problems with real-world relevance — something she hopes to carry past college.
“I don’t want to just end up in an office and lab all day,” she said of a future career. That said, “I’m open to anything.”
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